The UK’s main broadcasters have committed to avoid using the acronym BAME, short for “black, Asian, and minority ethnic”, after a report raised concerns it “homogenises culturally distinct social groups”.
The report was published by the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, a research body at Birmingham City University, after the BBC asked it for help deciding how best to describe a group of individuals from black, Asian and ethnic minority groups.
The report found “widespread ambivalence towards, and even rejection of the term” in research including original interviews and audience research.
It said: “There were misgivings that collective racial terms are used to hide specific underrepresentation of certain groups and obscure organisational failings. Several interviewees illustrated this point by saying organisations are quick to announce hitting ‘BAME targets’ but what does that mean if there is still massive black underrepresentation or east Asian representation.”
The research recommended more broadly that “specificity is always valued over generality where possible”, suggesting for example: “When using a collective term it is best practice to explicitly reference at least one racial subgroup within it, ideally… two at either end of the spectrum contributing to the statistics in the group.”
Where a collective noun for non-white people is necessary, the report says “we still recommend the use of the term Black, Asian and minority ethnic with all the caveats as outlined above.”
“This is primarily because we are concerned that introducing a completely new term, or ‘banning’ the use of a widely accepted term may increase a nervousness and insecurity that already exists around ethnicity-related language,” it went on. “Therefore, elaborating or modifying existing terms may be the best way forward.
“The important issue is for people to be cognisant of why they are using a collective term and to think through how this can help or hinder the understanding of a particular situation or issue.”
The report made allowance for use of BAME when quoting third parties, but cautioned strongly against using the term in headlines or in the singular, saying that in its research: “Even the strongest advocates for the use of collective terms for people who do not identify as White never described themselves in the singular as BAME.”
“The word ‘Bame’ (rhyming with ‘name’) should never be used verbally and we would recommend against the use of the term being written ‘Bame’.”
In response the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5/Viacom CBS UK have all agreed to avoid the term BAME “wherever possible” in both editorial content and external and internal communications, in favour of greater specificity. ITN, which produces ITV News, Channel 4 News and 5 News, also agreed to move away from the acronym in its newsrooms and corporate communications.
Ade Rawcliffe, ITV group director of diversity and inclusion, said: “We will use the findings to build on our internal race fluency training, which will help us to further embed an inclusive culture at ITV as we work to deliver the actions that we have committed to in our Diversity Acceleration Plan.”
Zaid Al-Qassab, Channel 4’s chief marketing officer and executive leader for inclusion and diversity, said: “We welcome the desire within the industry to stop using such vague terminology. At Channel 4 we began to move away from using the acronym last year and, in consultation with members of our employee rep group, The Collective, we’ve followed their recommendation to use the terminology ‘ethnically diverse’.”
Philippa Childs, head of media and entertainment union Bectu, said: “We are pleased to see a commitment from the BBC and other broadcasters to avoid the use of the collective term BAME and doing more to acknowledge individual ethnic groups.”
The report’s authors, among them Brunel media professor Sarita Malik and British Journalism Award winner Marcus Ryder, said: “We are very happy that British broadcasters are taking the issue of racial language seriously and were happy to undertake this piece of work. We believe that while there can still be utility in the use of collective terms, the priority should always be to ensure clear and simple communication that is trusted by audiences.”
Earlier this year, the government Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report recommended dropping the term BAME to talk about people from particular ethnic backgrounds.
It said: “…if we do sometimes need to distinguish between all white and non-white populations we should use the term ‘ethnic minority’, ‘ethnic group’, or ‘white ethnic minorities’ where appropriate, which we have used throughout this report wherever the data enables us to do so.”
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